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Unit 3: The impact of the First World War on Germany
Reactions to the outbreak of the war
Reactions to the outbreak of war filled many Germans with dread; as
conflict loomed, huge demonstrations against the war were held on
the 28th and the 29th July in Berlin.
The German government presented the war as a defensive campaign
against Slav aggression; there was a general consensus on the side of
national duty and what was understood to be morally right.
On the 4th of August the Kaiser addressed the nation summarising the
feeling of national unity by announcing "I know no parties any more,
only Germans". The socialists in the Reichstag fell into line and the
political divisions of the pre-war era were over.
The Reichstag also passed an enabling act known as Burgfrieden; the
concept of national unity based on shared suffering. The terms of the
Enabling Act were to reinforce the pre-war institutional structures
rather than challenge them. The Reichstag delegated all of its
legislative powers to the Bundesrat which was to rule the home front
by emergency legislation.
The War Ministry took over the bureaucratic function of running the
war, which very much strengthened the hand of the traditional
Corporations were set up under the control of the war materials
sections of the War Ministry to ensure the supply of raw materials for
the war effort.
On the night of the 4th of August 1914, the Germans unleashed the
Schlieffen Plan, the blueprint for victory on two fronts.
Throughout August, the German armies made strong progress,
advancing through Belgium, where they met fierce resistance from
the British. However the advance slowed as supplies failed to keep
peace with it.
The German Armies won two great battles at Tannenberg and
Mansurian lakes under Ludendorff and Hindenburg.
The defining moment of the war came at the end of September. At the
battle of Marne the German armies were halted within shelling
distance of Paris. Both sides attempted to outflank the other in a Race
to the Sea. The result was stalemate; Germany's best opportunity for
military victory had passed.
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The new Chief Commander of the general staff in 1915 was Erich von
Falkenhayn, with the Schlieffen plan a failure it was his responsibility
to devise an alternative strategy.
The solution was to win a decisive victory on either the western or
the eastern front and a debate ensued on what front to focus on. In
the end, Falkenhayn made the decision to attack the East and a
hugely successful campaign in Galicia in Poland threw the Russian
army back over 250 miles.…read more
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Despite the shortage of labour, the particularly conservative nature
of pre-war German society meant that the state did not consider
using women in the armed forces and they were not conscripted.
However by the end of the war a third of the industrial workforce
was women. Women sought after these jobs because they paid well,
and many women changed jobs for better pay.
In January 1915, the German government introduced rationing of bread
and other items soon followed.…read more